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  • Wild Oatslook tosew itup again

    WELCOME HOME: A flotilla of small craft greets Wild Oats XI (also above) as she heads towards the finish line in Hobart last year. PICTURES / AP

    SYDNEY TO HOBART 2008 BOXING DAY

    ICONIC RACE: Cracking paceforecast but record run uncertain

    THIS years Sydney toHobart will be sailed ata cracking pace but arecord time is anything

    but a given for Wild Oats XI,according to weather forecasters.The official long-range

    weather forecast, delivered onMonday, presented mixed newsfor the leading maxis including Wild Oats XI, which isgunning for a fourth straight linehonours win.The fleet is expected to get a

    sleigh ride down the NSW coaston the back of 20 to 25 knotnortherly winds on Friday andSaturday. But it is a forecastwesterly change in Bass Strait onSunday that is likely todetermine whether Wild OatsXIs 2005 record time of 1 day18hr 40min 10s can be lowered.The change is expected to

    weaken conditions for a shorttime, meaning Wild Oats XI andrivals including Skandia and IchiBan would need to be alreadythrough the strait to have anychance of a record time.I think theres a pretty

    reasonable chance theyll getpast there, NSW Bureau ofMeteorologys Barry Hanstrumsaid.But its still early days . . .

    and if that change is six or 12hours out it will have a bigimpact on that. We dont know atthis point but theres areasonable chance that northerlywould hang in long enough andthe leading boats will be throughthere before lighter windsarrive. Early forecasts indicated

    Wild Oats XI could smash itsown record but the predictedchange now has many tippingthe record will be safe foranother year.Personally, I dont think it

    will be broken, said ConradHumphreys, navigator of IchiBan, and a qualifiedmeteorologist. I think that littlesystem that comes through maywell cause a bit of a shutdown.Quite possibly as the boats

    are turning to go up theDerwent, there might be a quietpatch at that point and any boatsinside the record may suffer.Forecasters believe a second

    change shortly after the firstcould see winds along the coastof Tasmania build to more than35 knots. That would make forchallenging conditions for thesmaller boats at the back of thefleet but not dangerous ones,according to officials.I think the boats are pretty

    well set up for those sorts of

    conditions, said Matt Allen,commodore of the CruisingYacht Club of Australia andskipper of Ichi Ban. Each andevery year the race presents itchallenges.There might be few broken

    spinnakers and a few brokenegos out there but I thinkeverything else out there will befine.Ichi Ban was confirmed as a

    certain starter after sufferingdamage during the Rolex TrophyPassage race last Saturday.But skipper Matt Allen said

    repairs had been a success so farand the yacht was due to returnto the water ahead of Fridaysstart in Sydney Harbour.The repairs have gone really

    well, Allen said of the boat,which suffered damage aroundits two daggerboards. Werejust waiting for some things todry and everything will be fixed.Were ready to go and 100

    per cent confident. With this

    weather it looks like its going tobe some fun sailing.Ichi Ban, which reached

    Hobart second in 2006 and thirdlast year, is again likely to be inthe mix for line honours in whatforecasters say will be a fast-paced race.Rob and Sally Fisher used to

    fight on Christmas Day, likemany siblings. Decades on, Rob,47, and Sally, 45, now both livingin Hobart, are to renew theirChristmas Day rivalry with abottle of Bollinger at stake forthe winner of this years familycontest.The twist is they will be

    racing each other in the Sydneyto Hobart. Rob is sailing in his16th Hobart, Sally in her first.He has upgraded to the Helsal

    III, a 26-year-old, 20m Adams 20that has been completelyrefurbished with a fixed bulbkeel and bigger rig.Sally has the job of skippering

    Helsal IV, an 18.65m Dynamique62 that is 50 per cent heavier andnearly twice as slow as herbrothers boat.We have been arguing about

    the length of time he needs togive me as a handicap, saidSally, who admitted not muchhad changed in the siblingrivalry stakes.But Rob sailed this boat

    [Helsal IV] in the Sydney toHobart, and his fastest time isfour days, five hours and 29minutes, so if he doesnt get injust over two days [in the fasterHelsal III], I reckon I have won.

    Agencies

    Cruel sea holds trump card

    DANGER: Stranded Stand Aside was dismasted in the 1998 race. PICTURE / AP

    The Sydney to Hobart raceorganisers will commemoratethe 10th anniversary of thefateful 1998 event in which sixsailors lost their lives.

    A minutes silence will beobserved at a number of pre-and post-race functions andthere will also be a wreath-laying service at Hobart at thedockside public announcementof the overall winner.

    Commodore Matt Allen said:We will acknowledge the lossof five yachts that sank and thesupport of the rescue servicesthat assisted 55 sailors tosafety in one of the biggestmaritime rescue operationsever in Australian waters.

    John Stanley, helmsmanaboard the ill-fated WinstonChurchill, likened the stormthat hit the fleet in Bass Strait10 years ago to a cyclone.

    Stanley lost three crewmates Jim Lawler, MichaelBannister and John Dean asrogue waves of more than 10m,whipped up by a winds of morethan 90 knots (170km/h) sunktheir boat and others.

    Others to die were PhilSkeggs and Bruce Guy onBusiness Post Naiad and GlynCharles on the Sword of Orion.

    Commodore Allen reflected:The 1998 race was a poignantreminder that the sea alwaysholds the trump card. But the

    sport has seen a positiveimpact across the world sincethen.

    There have been broadchanges to safety introducedall because of the savage stormcell that formed in Bass Straitand hit the fleet on December27, 1998.

    Of the 115 yachts that year,just 44 made it to the finish ofthe 628 nautical-mile race,which has been held on BoxingDay since 1945.

    Yachting weather expertRoger Badham said it wasntthe winds in 1998 that posedthe biggest danger, but therogue waves. Sailors call themsuperimposing wave trains.

    And he warned it could allturn ugly this year if a predictedlow changes its behaviour andmoves into the fleets path inBass Strait.

    Badham said the long-rangeforecast was still vague. Areplay of the shockingconditions that decimated thefleet in 1998 appears, at thisstage, unlikely, with talk of afast and furious race south.

    He said the long-rangeforecast of strong downwindsailing conditions held thepotential for the Australian98-footer Wild Oats to break herown race record. Shes fastenough to break her ownrecord, he said.

    Disabled crew can inspire and winA crew of disabled sailorsranging from a doubleamputee to dyslexics hope toinspire people when theytackles the Sydney toHobart.The seriously competitive

    team from Sailors WithDisabilities (SWD) also aimsto win after taking out arace division last year. This

    years crew includes dyslexicskipper David Pescud, whosays he was inspired to takeup sailing to prove nothingwas impossible. I couldnever accept being writtenoff because of my disability.I was always moreinterested in what you cando rather than what youcant do.